In Their Own Words: An Interview with The Catrinka Project, Winner of the 2013 GSC 3S Out-of-the-Box Award
Interview with The Catrinka Project Co-Founder and CEO, Megan Reilly Cayten, and Co-Founder and Creative Director, Amisha Patel
1. Can you describe how the concept of The Catrinka Project came about?
We are three friends in New York City, all with international roots and a passion for investing in women and girls around the world. Amisha is a designer and Sumana and Megan are avid collectors of beautiful things from around the world – things with a story and a soul. Megan, who has worked on four continents to leverage the power of the private sector to create social change, knows how to run things. Amisha, who founded the socially responsible girls clothing line Ode Kids, knows how to make things. Sumana, who co-founded a charity for orphaned girls in India, knows how to invest in girls. We came together to form Catrinka in late 2012, with the goal of making beautiful products, employing women, and educating girls. By imbuing our products with a soul, and a story, we hope to create a sense of intimacy between our customers, the women who made their bags, and the girls who benefit from their purchase.
We named our label after Megan’s 5-year old daughter, Caterina (nicknamed “Catrinka”). We hope our cause and mission speak to anyone who knows a little girl, or a woman who wants to make her daughter’s dreams come true.
2. What pushed The Catrinka Project towards pursuing goals in sustainable and socially responsible practices, as opposed to a strictly profits-based model?
The mission is core to Catrinka’s business model. It is what inspires and motivates us to keep going. We all love beautiful things but the meaning behind the label is what makes the work worthwhile. We welcomed the challenge of creating an innovative social enterprise to compete with more established businesses that have questionable production models, to inspire other burgeoning entrepreneurs and to meaningfully contribute to the growing community of those already pursuing socially responsible business practices.
3. Did you – at any point – come to regret that your company is following this path?
We have never regret following this path but have recognized how challenging it is to find space in the economics for both our employment and our donations pieces. Pricing products competitively is necessary to grow our business, and in a marketplace that has grown accustomed to fast fashion prices, customers may love a good story but do not always want to pay for it. Fundamentally, though, we just are not interested in doing business any other way.
4. What do you think sets you apart – as far as business model is concerned – from other companies from your sector?
We have a dual social mission: to employ women and to educate girls. Many companies work with just one of these goals (and one is hard enough!). Our donation
program donates a service – education – that allows girls to change their own lives, rather than a product that displaces local production and which the recipients may not need (as is typical of many one-for-one programs). We have also invested deeply in developing an expert advisory board and researching our girls education mission to make sure that the interventions we fund will have maximum impact.
5. To what would you credit the success of The Catrinka Project practicing socially responsible business?
Our success lies in the amazing partnerships we have formed with women working around the world to build their own socially responsible businesses. The artisan groups that produce our designs work flexibly in challenging environments while adhering to the tenets of our business and theirs. Our story also readily resonates with the educated women who are our customers and who understand the importance of investing in women and girls.
6. What do you think can be done to make the business world aware of the need for corporate social responsibility?
Consumer education is key. People need to know the true environmental and social costs of a lot of the traditional ways of doing business, and to hear success stories, so that they can choose to support those businesses that are on the right path. Only if consumers demand and expect socially responsible practices from the businesses their spending supports will businesses incorporate these practices in order to remain competitive.